As part of her NSF CAREER Award, Cheryl Gomillion is developing strategies and tools to better understand the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer metastasis. Detection of metastatic breast cancer typically doesn’t occur until after the cancer has moved to other areas, including to the bones, lungs and brain, which often results in delayed treatment and more advanced cancer cases.
“Most cancer-related deaths result due to metastasis, or the spread of cancer to other parts of the body,” Gomillion said. “If we can potentially identify early signatures or indicators of cancers that may be metastatic, that could result in better patient outcomes and save lives.”
The research team will measure the quantitative properties of cancer cells to better understand what contributes to metastatic cancer and what specific signatures those cells have that distinguish them from non-metastatic cells, with a particular focus on the role of the extracellular matrix and secreted factors from adipocytes (fat cells).
Gomillion’s team will test the hypothesis that breast cancer cells have inherent phenotypical characteristics associated with impedance, cell shape and gene expression. In vitro models will allow for continuous, real-time measurement of cell behavior. Based on the findings, the data can be used for translational approaches in the future to model and predict the likelihood of metastasis in clinical samples.